Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo / Mark Mitchell
If the Prime Minister’s words are to be believed, New Zealand will run out of Covid vaccines early next week.
On Tuesday, Jacinda Ardern and her Covid-19 Response Minister, Chris Hipkins, announced 1 million
doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be delivered to New Zealand in July.
“These consignments,” she said, “will double the total number of Pfizer doses we’ve received this year, taking the total to more than 1.9 million — enough to fully vaccinate almost one million Kiwis.”
She warned that the majority of the new doses would be delivered in the second half of the month.
Ardern also announced that her Government was now administering 20,000 doses every day. The same day, the Ministry of Health reported that more than 775,000 doses have already been administered. With more than 5000 doses having been wasted, the Prime Minister’s announcement suggested the Ministry had only 120,000 doses left in stock.
That would only be enough to take us through to the end of Monday. There would not even be enough for the 220,000 people waiting for their second dose.
This is no conspiracy. It’s just maths based on the Prime Minister’s words from the Beehive’s “podium of truth”.
The Beehive now suggests the Prime Minister didn’t tell the full story. It says there’s no chance we’ll run out on Monday because there are supplies coming into New Zealand that she and Hipkins didn’t mention on Tuesday, including 100,000 doses diverted from the Covax programme, that is meant to help the world’s 92 poorest countries get vaccines.
That’ll get us through another five more days. Latest data from the Ministry of Health suggests 190,000 doses now in stock.
In any case, it gets worse.
While Ardern and Hipkins made a big show of the next million doses arriving progressively through July, they also claimed the numbers to be vaccinated through the month will be ramped up “significantly”.
Assuming that means 30,000 doses administered each day in July, the million new doses will take them through to the end of that month before they’ll run out again.
And the first lot are needed by the 100,000 people who won’t get their second dose on time this month.
But even if the Government manages to administer 1.9 million doses by the end of July, it will have vaccinated no more than 950,000 people. That’s just 18 per cent of the total population or 23 per cent of the population aged 16 and above.
It doesn’t even include the estimated 2.2 million people in priority groups 1, 2 and 3, which include border and MIQ workers and those they live with; high-risk frontline workers and people living in high-risk places; and people at risk of getting very sick from Covid-19, such as those who are aged 65 or over, obese, diabetic or pregnant, or with a heart condition. What hope for the rest of us?
Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised, given reports that more than 25,000 people in the highest priority group — border workers and those they live with — have not yet had a single jab. And more than 1000 border workers still aren’t even getting tested as required.
But it gets worse still.
Ardern and Hipkins went on to say the Government plans to administer an average of 50,000 doses a day in August and September. For that, they’ll need a further three million doses delivered by Pfizer through those two months.
Yet when asked how many doses they expect to have in stock at the end of July, and when — even roughly — they expect to receive further doses from Pfizer, they won’t say, citing commercial sensitivity.
Strangely, Hipkins and Ardern didn’t consider it too commercially sensitive to crow to the whole world on Tuesday about the July shipment plans.
Having tried for two days to get answers out of the Beehive formally and informally, there is a lot of talk that t’s need to be crossed and i’s dotted, which suggests no actual shipments from Pfizer have been confirmed beyond July.
But the Beehive also suggests supplies are coming into New Zealand that the Prime Minister didn’t mention, including 100,000 doses diverted from the Covax programme, meant to help the world’s 92 poorest countries get vaccines.
The Beehive dismisses as “hypothetical” questions about exactly when New Zealand will run out of vaccines if no further shipments are confirmed. It says Pfizer has delivered on its commitments — whatever they are — and that it expects that to continue.
It is startling that the Government thinks supplying only 900,000 doses — enough for just 450,000 people — in the first six months of this year is Pfizer “delivering”.
Hipkins, after all, announced in November that the Government was “in a very good place to ensure New Zealand will be at the front of the queue”. He may be doing better than Phil Twyford building just 600 KiwiBuild houses after promising 100,000, but that’s no comfort if we’re left behind the rest of the world.
The Beehive legitimately boasts that New Zealand is Covid-free, but not even it says we always will be. Its goal is to achieve herd immunity through vaccination so the border can reopen. It knows it is vital for New Zealand this happens at least in line with the rest of the world.
As a trade- and tourism-dependent country, we can’t afford to stay locked behind a border while everyone else returns to normal. Nor, aside from the economic considerations, do we want to.
The Government won’t say what level of vaccination it believes would deliver herd immunity, saying the science community hasn’t settled on a number. It won’t even give a range. Nor will it say when it expects it will have achieved herd immunity.
But we can do the maths.
Assuming herd immunity is achieved with an 80 per cent vaccination rate across the whole population, and assuming the Government gets a further six million or so doses, and assuming it achieves its heroic estimate of 50,000 doses a day from August then, with a bit of luck, the job will be done just before Christmas.
The tourism industry could open for summer and New Zealanders could finally visit loved ones outside Australasia. In fact, if we believe the Government’s data, everyone can start booking now. But I strongly recommend you take out insurance. The current situation looks set to run well into 2022.
Most astonishing, Ardern refuses to commit to returning to our pre-Covid border policy even after herd immunity. We’ve always accepted around 500 usually unvaccinated people dying from influenza each year as the price of an open border, but Covid seems to have changed the Government’s appetite for risk.
Even when herd immunity is achieved and the vaccine is being administered on demand to anyone who wants, the Government will not publicly guarantee that New Zealanders and others will again be able to come and go as we please.
Such questions, the Beehive says, involve “simplistic assertions” and “do not contribute helpfully to debate or planning”.
Hipkins has ruled out offering his resignation if he fails to deliver herd immunity by the end of this year — or even by the end of next year. Asked whether she would seek his resignation, Ardern’s office would say only that she has confidence in him.
Given the vaccination shambles over which they are presiding, those answers are probably prudent. And, if you are a border worker who hasn’t had your jab, best you get it today.
– Matthew Hooton is an Auckland-based public relations consultant.
This column has been updated with new information from the Beehive that reveals vaccine supplies coming into New Zealand for domestic use include 100,000 Pfizer doses diverted from the Covax programme.